By Nicole Jacobs
I’ve been struggling for the past couple of years with the perpetuation of Santa Claus with my young children. Neither my mother nor my husband get what my problem is; you give them a happy childhood with gifts, excitement, and a guy with a red suit.
But I don’t know. Should I be lying to them like this? What if they Google it when they’re able to do so and are so heartbroken that they end up with trust issues and hate me forever?
Much has been written on how to handle the myth of Santa with your children, with many parents deciding to forgo it altogether. There’s particular nastiness in the materialistic threats for good behaviour, the manipulation, the bad-kids-don’t-get-gifts-from-Santa (what about impoverished children? Or children whose families don’t celebrate Christmas? Are they “bad”?).
It can all be a bit confusing, and with our increasingly inquisitive children, who are exposed to more and more media at a younger age, the hole of lies can get pretty deep. Add to that the new anxieties of hiding an Elf on a Shelf every night so the kids can see that yes, the elf flew back to the North Pole while you were sleeping, reported to Santa about how you did today, and came back home and landed in a different spot. It’s a lot of stories to get straight, and even more pressure on parents.
A common refrain with the Santa talk is that we consistently teach our children about strangers and how to avoid them, yet we make them sit on some strange guy’s lap every year and take a photo. We lock our doors and windows and ensure that our children have the security in knowing that they’re always safe in their home, yet one night a year a man enters and tools about, touches their stuff, and eats their food.
But this is all overly simplistic, is it not? The character of Santa Claus is heavily built up at such a young age (the magic, the suit, the flying reindeer, the larger-than-life benevolence), in such a fantastical way, that I don’t think it compromises our stranger danger teachings. Of course they need to know that it’s only okay to talk to Santa when a trusted grown-up is present, and if they don’t want to sit on his lap and have a photo taken, that’s okay too.
(And I don’t know of any real bad guys who haven’t put themselves in danger by attempting to enter a home in this unconventional way.)
But still, with all of this, why do I continue to allow my small ones to believe in Santa Claus?
There’s no easy answer for this, and I don’t mean to persuade or compel you if you’re also uncertain about how to proceed. Parenthood is tough stuff and I fail at it daily.
I’d like to teach my kids that it’s okay to indulge in fantasies, to have conviction in believing in something that they can’t necessarily see or explain, or that defies all practical and critical thinking. Because the universe is big, and we’re alone, and maybe it’s alright to hold fast to endearing and long-cherished traditions and customs that challenge our ever-changing modern existence, provide us comfort and love, and teach us to give of ourselves.
In our house Santa is not a manipulative reward for “good” behaviour. He’s a symbol of love and generosity, and we teach our children to give to those who need—always, not just during the holidays.
Of course we don’t need Santa to teach generosity, but he can be a lovely example of it. Santa is ultimately about love, and goodness, and the innocence of children. And when I see something like this, I feel all the more certain in my decision.
Truth is, I want my kids to be innocent for a little while, and even to live in a cocoon of fantasy for a time, and have some fun and memories of that belief. Because it’s unnecessary to expose them to anything but that yet. The “real world” is too heavy a burden for tiny shoulders, and far too many children have to bear it.
For me, Santa “exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.”
Is there really such harm in that? Well maybe, but I’ll take my chances. If we teach them to be strong and sensible beings who can independently navigate the world and have empathy and compassion, they’ll come out alright. Even if they believe in Santa Claus.
At least that’s what I’ll choose to believe.
Nicole Jacobs is Managing Editor and writer at Her City Lifestyle. A design consultant and former college educator, she’s been a contributor to print and online magazines since 2005. She can be found on Twitter @NJacobsmtg.